Putin regime now seizing and destroying archives to whitewash the Soviet past

The main building of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia (Image: A.Savin via Wikimedia Commons)

The main building of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia (Image: A.Savin via Wikimedia Commons) 

Analysis & Opinion, Russia

The Putin regime has moved beyond banning and confiscating books, an increasingly ineffective measure given that most publications now are available online, to destroying archives on which future research can be based, according to scholars at St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum.

In the words of Aleksey Larionov, a senior specialist on West European art there, this is a truly frightening development, one without precedent in the recent history of Russia. Moreover, it is one that the powers that be may easily extend to other archival collections as well.

The Russian security services began focusing their attention on the Hermitage after Mikhail Piotrovsky, the museum’s director, spoke out against handing St. Isaac’s back to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Nominally working under the direction of the ministry of culture, the security services began ransacking the archives of the museum, devoting particular attention to Stalin’s sale of art to the West in the 1920s and 1930s. The officers took catalogs and other archival materials and carried away “in an unknown direction all archival documents on this subject.”

According to Larionov, the special services accused the Hermitage of “illegally publishing documents” containing secret information “over the course of many years” about “the sale by the museum of art in the 1920s and 1930s.” They banned the sale of books scholars there have published and seized them from the Hermitage’s shop.

At the same time, however, the Russian special services seized archival materials, the specialist says.

“To stop the sale of the books is not so horrific in the final analysis: they now have certainly appeared in the Internet. [But] it is frightening that they are destroying archives” and thus the possibility for future research.

The Hermitage has already published a nine-volume catalog of art works the Soviet state sold in the 1920s, a series compiled under the direction of Elena Solomakha, the head of the manuscript and documentation section of the Hermitage. When asked by Novaya gazeta about the seizures of archives, she refused to comment, however.

The museum itself has denied that any archives have been taken or that any ban on their use or on publications based on them has been put in place “officially.” Serafim Romanov of the Moscow paper’s St. Petersburg branch says that is the key word.

“Officially,” nothing has happened; but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t occurred. As Larionov notes, the authorities have stopped selling the books in question and removed citations to them in others being prepared, and documents have been taken away from the Hermitage archives.

As far as the “official” denials, he continues, it is of course possible that “such efforts are about the improvement of the system of document preservation, but if so that is quite unusual, is it not?”


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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Eddy Verhaeghe

    What on earth is to be gained by the powers that be in the Kremlin by destroying archives about the sale to the West of art by Stalin?

    • RedSquareMaidan

      This is what the Russians do. The only history to be proud of is what they’ve tried to steal from other countries. In true Peter and Catherine form the last 300 years.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      Nothing. First, as noted in the article there are published works that list the sales. Once published and spread the information is out in the open. There’s also the small matter of the sales being on record in the west- most were done through agencies and auction houses such as Sothesby’s. Their records haven’t been destroyed as far as I know. Some items were sold privately but most of these are also known.
      All the dwarf achieves is making himself look foolish- which he is, of course.

      • Alex George

        And helping to destroy Russian culture and academia!

        As usual, the dwarf accomplishes the opposite of what he intends.

  • veth

    Russia has no history, but thanks God, no future as well.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      Oh, Dwarfstan does have a future, but not a bright one. It is heading towards a new Time of Troubles.

  • Dagwood Bumstead

    Certainly in the case of Ukrainian affairs the dwarf’s actions are pointless. ALL archives in the Ukraine up to 1991 are to be made public and available to all online, including those of the Cheka/GPU/OGPU/NKVD/NKGB/MGB/KGB. This is a mammoth task and will take many years to complete, but historians will have a field day- they will have enough material for decades of research. The Ukrainian archives may well contain copies of material in the Dwarfstanian archives.
    I don’t know whether the Baltics are doing the same but if they are that adds more available material for historians.

    • BrentD15

      I love how you refer to Putin as “the dwarf”.

  • veth

    Russian history book in 2048: Putin was never President Of Russia, there is no proof that he ever was President. Its an Anti-Russian lie. According that book Russia was, at that time, a modern democracy with free elections and many parties. Freedom of speech even.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      That is, IF the country still exists in 2048, of course.

      • Quartermaster

        It won’t, & neither will the US.

  • Dirk Smith

    It appears this sociopath’s Asperger’s isn’t getting any better. Botox is not the answer. 😀

  • zorbatheturk

    I expect nothing less of the Putinator. What was it Orwell wrote? Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past. One day the RuSSians will pretend Communism and Stalin were fictions. History will begin with the Putin. 2000 will be Year Zero.